Seven new District Court judges will be sworn in in NSW, to counter “one of the worst affected courts in Australia when it comes to increasing workloads,” says the state’s Attorney-General.
Mark Speakman announced the new, permanent appointments as being “in the interests of justice in NSW,” as he explained the backlog of District Court cases “has doubled over the last five or six years.”
“Not only are we seeing more cases come to court,” Mr Speakman said, “they are longer and more complex.”
The waiting time for justice in the NSW District Court has increased, with Mr Speakman noting that a peak 710-day period between arrest and sentencing for a contested trial in mid-2017 has stabilized to around 690 days.
The seven new judges will bring the total number of District Court judges to 75, which Mr Speakman notes is “a record number of judges.”
Against this backdrop and despite a current backlog of around 2,000 cases, the Attorney-General did note that the District Court is “a pretty efficient court.”
“Data between states is not strictly comparable but the Productivity Commission’s latest data suggests that judges in the NSW District Court are churning through about twice as many cases per head as their counterparts in the county court of Victoria, and at significantly more cases per head than their counterparts in Queensland,” he said.
The NSW Bar Association has welcomed the news. In a statement, the Bar Association’s president Arthur Moses SC said “the increase in judicial resources announced by the Attorney-General will help address these issues and also alleviate the pressures being experienced by judges given the court’s current workload.”
He noted the association “has been very concerned for some time about the lack of resourcing and other support for District Court judges in the face of a crushing workload.”
“The lack of resources has resulted in long delays in matters being heard, which unacceptably impacts adversely on defendants, witnesses and victims of crime,” he continued, stressing particularly the impact on victims.
Mr Moses also highlighted “that a comprehensive review of court’s jurisdiction, structure and processes is required to identify systemic issues that may affect the proper and timely administration of justice.”
As a result, the Bar Association has “prepared and provided the Attorney-General with draft terms of reference for a comprehensive review of the court and its practices”, and is urging the government to “institute such a review as soon as possible.”